The 9 Best
Our resident Vietnam expert (and Condé Nast award-winning travel specialist) Nathan Lane gives us nine more reasons why he’s so sought-after for his expertise in the region. Here are a few of his hidden secrets for the best food in Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City. (The difference between Saigon and HCMC? It’s similar to how New Yorkers distinguish the borough of Manhattan from the whole of New York City). Here are, in his words, some of his favourite restaurants, cafes, bars, and breweries in town.
For over a century, vendors have sold produce, meat, fish, flowers, and countless other products in Ton That Dam street market. Visionary chef Peter Cuong Franklin has acquired a historic building overlooking the market and filled it with Saigon-inspired art and ambience to create Anan, where he serves his high-end interpretations of market classics, with fresh ingredients plucked straight from the vendors’ stalls. The varied menu has something for everyone, including fun shared tasting platters. The desserts are not to be missed either! Enjoy signature cocktails on the rooftop bar and look at the bustling market below, with the Saigon skyline as the backdrop.
For a bit of historical context to go along with your meal, give the wonderful Chopsticks Restaurant a try. The restaurant is set in the former villa of South Vietnam’s vice president, Tran Van Huong, who sided along with the US until Vietnamese reunification in 1975. The home has been exquisitely restored and the setting radiates sophistication, and the food couldn’t be better. Here, it’s all about beautifully prepared dishes and fresh ingredients, showcasing traditional Vietnamese cuisine. On a recent trip I guided, this was everyone’s favourite meal of the trip!
Hidden away on a small street at the edge of District 1, Cuc Gach Quan bursts to life as soon as you walk through the doors. Set in a heritage building that has been beautifully maintained, the restaurant meanders through different rooms, courtyards, and ponds of the ancient house. The overall atmosphere is that of sophistication and simplicity. The food follows suit—it’s simple, fresh, traditional, and refined. You really can’t go wrong with anything on the menu, which showcases what makes Vietnamese cuisine so incredible.
One of the newer restaurants in town, this chic and casual restaurant, with stylish patrons to match, is perfect for a light lunch. I really love the banh mi (Vietnamese sandwich) or a casual dinner with friends. Expect great local fare with a funky vibe. It’s right around the corner from the chocolate shop I mention later on in this post, Maison Marou, so leave room for dessert afterwards!
Its name means ‘poppy’ in Vietnamese; an apt name for a restaurant housed in an old opium factory! This excellent location, just steps from the Park Hyatt, features a tucked-away courtyard with greenery surrounding. Great high-end cuisine in a nice casual setting. Sit inside for air-conditioned comfort or outside for an almost European vibe with big fans and lots of chitter-chatter from the four restaurants in the same courtyard. My favorite dish is the green mango salad with crispy soft-shelled crab & crushed cashews. (Take me back…)
Only steps away from the Independence Palace, Propaganda Bistro embodies modern Vietnam. Young urban Saigonians flock here for cocktails in the evening, and brunch on weekends. The restaurant is decorated in colourful war-era propaganda art, with the slogans altered to sentiments about healthy eating and lifestyle. The food here is just as fresh and colourful as the décor. Go for the fresh spring roll with tempura prawn & avocado, and the bun thit nuong – (vermicelli noodle bowl with grilled pork, herbs, vegetables, and fried spring roll).
Street Food and Snacks
Time for some street eats—look no further than Banh Xeo 46A, a small District 3 eatery that has maintained its charm for decades. Sitting on plastic stools and rubbing shoulders with smiling locals is all part of the fun here. You’ll understand why the smiles are so big when a banh xeo, or savoury pancake, is served to you. Pork, shrimp, sprouts, and spring onions, inside a lightly crisped turmeric rice flower crepe. Take a big slice of the crepe and place it in a lettuce leaf, top it off with basil, mint, coriander, and cucumber, then give the whole thing a roll. Welcome to the greatest wrap in Asia.
For your mid-morning coffee, make sure to pop into L’Usine. A self-proclaimed “hipster café,” I love the combination of amazing coffee, Western music, and 1950s communist stylings. With a few locations in Ho Chi Minh City, my favourite is the one kitty-corner from the Park Hyatt, on the other side of the Opera. A bit like a speakeasy, you will walk up some old stairs, a functional hallway with laundry drying and parked motorbikes around you, but when you enter, it’s like another world: a chic, polished café with a cute gift shop. The Vietnamese coffee is outstanding. There’s nothing quite like the anticipation of watching the slow drip of a Vietnamese coffee filter over a thick layer of sweet condensed milk…savour the experience!
Marou is bringing chocolate to the forefront in Vietnam. Marou is the first large-scale producer of single-origin dark chocolate from the Mekong Delta. Their focus on fresh ingredients, rich flavours, and chic design has gained them international acclaim, and their products can now be found in 25 countries, including Canada and the US. Maison Marou is their dessert café in the centre of District 1. Even though it may be scorching hot outside, the fresh mint hot chocolate will blow you away.
Bars, Brews, and Brunch
No visit to Ho Chi Minh City is complete without soaking in the view from a rooftop bar, and the Sofitel’s MGallery Hotel des Arts Social Club is the best of the best. Standing high above District 1, there’s no better spot to watch the city’s skyline put on a glittering light show. Grab a couch, dip your feet in the pool, and mingle with Saigon’s elite as the city sparkles all around you.
Vietnam’s first craft brewery is making waves across the craft beer scene, winning award after award. In fact, their Imperial Chocolate Stout won gold at the World Beer Cup in 2016. Passing through an alleyway of Instagrammable graffiti brings you into their tap house, where you can have a tasting of twelve beers on tap, five year-round and seven seasonal. The Jasmine IPA and Spice Island Saison are as good as any local craft brew you could get at home.